ANOTHER VIEW; Don't delay talking peace

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The Independent Online
In an editorial on 15 August the Irish Times wrote: "It is clear that peace will not endure indefinitely in a political vacuum. If the two governments cannot create, or facilitate the creation of a political agenda which is inclusive of all elements, the impetus towards violence will grow."

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Irish government have expressed concern about the British government's negative attitude towards the peace process, its refusal to move to the essential next step - all-party peace talks - and the potential for this vacuum to engender instability.

The decision in the Clegg case and many disgraceful decisions taken on the routing of Orange parades through Catholic areas have all added to the sense of despair that now permeates all sections of our people. This has manifested itself in increasing sectarian attacks on Orange Order halls, Protestant and Catholic churches and church property and Catholic homes.

Sinn Fein has consistently and publicly criticised those responsible for this sectarian behaviour and demanded that it immediately stop. These actions are irresponsible and increase the fears and tensions that already exist. I have appealed for calm and urged all political leaders and both governments to use their influence and to concentrate our collective efforts on building constructive dialogue. In recent weeks I have twice asked to meet the Rev Martin Smyth, Unionist MP and leader of the Orange Order to discuss our roles in reducing tension. Regrettably he refused. But that does not mean that we should give up. We must not allow those who have emerged from the trenches of past failures to go back and we must seek to encourage Unionists to engage in real dialogue, on the core issues that are the basis of conflict, with the objective of reaching a democratic agreement.

Unfortunately, Unionists and the British government can still see the peace process as a competition in which there can only be winners and losers. The British government especially, which holds the key to movement, appears determined to pursue a strategy which is blocking progress and threatens the peace process. This is contrary to the spirit of a process that seeks to be inclusive and which requires a common responsibility in managing its development and advancing it to the point of a settlement.

Where does the peace process go now? It can go nowhere until the British government and Unionists engage. How can it be salvaged? How can the crisis be averted? By the British government calling all-party peace talks. And by John Major facing up to his responsibilities to the people of Ireland and to his people, too.

Almost one year on, he cannot dodge this issue for much longer. The entire logic of the peace process is that through substantive all-party peace talks we arrive at a settlement that removes the causes of conflict and takes the guns, all of them, for ever out of Irish politics.

Divisions and antagonisms are part of our history, but they don't need to be part of our future. If the present time of hope is to be turned into reality this unprecedented opportunity for a lasting peace in Ireland must not be squandered.

The writer is president of Sinn Fein.